The Most Difficult Part of the Journey

By Pat Wetzel, Founder and Member of The Anti-Cancer Club

“The most difficult part of the cancer journey started when treatment ended.”

I had a fascinating conversation the other day with Gai Comans in Australia. She is putting together a series of interviews of people’s cancer experiences, focusing on breast cancer.  We talked a bit between interviews and shared some of our experiences.   I found it interesting that both of us found that the most difficult part of the cancer journey started when treatment ended.

For me, it was as if I left the oncology office and fell off a cliff.  Now what? What could I do for better health?  Aside from recovering my energy after a difficult 6 rounds of chemo (plus radiation and surgery), surely there was something within my control.

Like many before me, I found David Servan-Schreiber’s book Anticancer A New Way of Life.  The combination of a mesmerizing personal story told by an MD was a powerful combination.  For those of you not familiar with this book, pick it up!   Dr. Servan-Schreiber was on staff at the University of Pittsburgh when he was given a cancer diagnosis: brain cancer.  Fast forward a few years, and his tumor returned.  The recurrence sent him on a worldwide tour de force with the question of what creates anti-cancer health.

I read everything I could get my hands on. Dean Ornish’s study of men with prostate cancer showed that lifestyle issues impacted one’s genetic expression.  That was a ray of hope. It meant that I had some control over the chaos of cancer that had invaded my body and my life.

I really had no idea what I was getting myself into when I decided to take “control” of my health.   Unbeknownst to me at the time, through a series of trial and error, my life was going to change considerably.

Chemo was difficult in retrospect.  I think I went through it in a blaze of denial. I just kept putting one foot in front of the other, again and again, until I collapsed (usually just a few hours after getting up!) Perhaps the most difficult side effect (other than the retched prednisone) was that I totally lost the will to eat.  It wasn’t life threatening, but it felt as if I’d lost a vital life force within me.  I started eating with one goal in mind:  nutrition.  Every bite had to count because there were so few.

This was a radical shift from my usual approach to food.  I grew up on great food.  French cheeses, wonderful sauces, plenty of meat, muffins, pasta, risotto, and diet soda please!  So my newfound focus on nutrition tore apart many of my traditional preferences and forced me to rethink and relearn how to eat.

It sounds simple, right?  Rather like “eat more vegetables”.  But which vegetables?  And what the heck is kale and chard?

The amount of information one needs to assimilate to start making healthy choices is vast and often controversial.  Topics such as Organic versus Non-Organic; Dairy; Omega 3 versus Omega 6 fatty acid balance; Vegan versus Vegetarian versus Flexitarian:  Glycemic indices;  Anti-Angiogenesis; Alkaline versus Acidic; all are components of making healthy anti-cancer nutritional decisions.

Add to this the need to then make informed choices on individual foods, and the path to health starts looking fairly complicated.   My own path through all this was uneven at best.  At one point I went vegan and was terribly unhappy. All I could see was what I couldn’t have.  Life without cheese, I decided, wasn’t worth living.

But I did learn some very valuable lessons in my foray into veganism.  It forced me to examine my eating habits. Yogurt was my standard breakfast (complete with sugar or artificial sweetners).  My standard snack was a hunk of cheese.  Until I eliminated dairy from my diet, I didn’t realize how much I consumed.  And I didn’t realize how much better I could feel without it.

Going completely vegan wasn’t the answer for me. But what was? Juicing, smoothies, protein powder, to soy or not?  Finally, after a bit more experimentation and ongoing research, some common sense and moderation set in.  I realized that I needed to define what created sustainable anti-cancer health for ME.

What is anti-cancer health?  

It’s a combination of:

thoughtful nutrition on a daily basis; 
regular exercise; 
stress management and attention to that mind/body connection; 
and finally, staying socially connected with a supportive network. 

It sounds so simple, but is it?

A healthy lifestyle probably means some education and adjustment for most of us. And that is how the Anti-Cancer Club was founded. I realized that my situation and frustration were not unique: the lack of a definition of health, much less a plan, was a universal problem with cancer.

Today, four years after my original diagnosis, my life has changed considerably. I meditate daily. Meditation came into my life after my first round of chemo. I was under a great deal of stress and my cancer had come raging back. It became apparent that I had to do something about how I managed stress. Meditation became the answer and it has been a transformative practice in my life.

I stay active hiking, playing tennis and am starting QiGong. My diet now is low glycemic and vegetable and fruit rich. I do not eat processed or prepared food. I choose to eat fish and a very limited amount of dairy (cheese). If I eat any meat, it is in small quantities and grass fed.

I’ve strengthened my connections to like minded and supportive people and have let the others leave my life. Life is far too short to expend energy on people who don’t care. There’s a great saying: Don’t leap across oceans for people who won’t step across a puddle for you! I took that philosophy to heart!

From my own path to health, the Nutritional Boot Camp was born to provide a blue print to help others. Similarly our Life Balance Blog offers tips for physical, emotional and mind/body health. “Tell Your Story” provides inspiration from others. And our growing network of international business partners offers services (such as nutritional counseling and meditation) to people anywhere in the world via phone and Skype.

The Nutritional Boot Camp

The Nutritional Boot Camp is a good example of our basic methodology for change. Each week we take one food, flavor or idea. Your mission is simply to try it. If you like it, keep it. If not, discard it. You never have to give anything up; each week you get to add something new.

By tackling concepts and foods in an incremental manner, our Nutritional Boot Camp accomplishing two things:

We’re creating a sustainable habit of gradual change. 
We’re providing the rationale for the change.

The Boot Camp organizes information into three levels:

Level One: Basic Food Information 
Level Two: Basic Concepts
Level Three: Staying On Track

This provides both the framework for understanding nutritional concepts as they relate to an anti-cancer life and the information on the specific foods. Then it’s up to you to decide what works in your life. We also offer access to nutritional counselors (and other services) to help guide you along your path.

Creating a sustainable, personalized eating plan does not have to be difficult. In six months, you’ll be provided with twenty six new ideas. If you implement just six of them, you’ll be on the path to health. And this shift towards better health will spill over into mind/body health, exercise and stress management as well.

Getting started is simple.

Just try this week’s food, flavor or idea in your diet. Over time, as you become educated about the Basic Concepts, your nutritional decision making will become more informed and more refined. It’s an ongoing process with endless nuances and possibilities.

Feeling great, especially when recovering from cancer treatment has its own rewards. Regaining your energy, watching your skin glow again, seeing the brightness in your eyes—these are gifts that most of us will never take for granted again.

Whether it’s Day 1 or Day 1001 of your cancer journey, you need to be living an anti-cancer life. This holiday season, give the priceless gift of health by setting an example for your loved ones.

I invite you to join us in a thoughtful, fun and achievable approach to transforming your health, one step at a time. The weekly newsletter comes out Sunday morning and it’s free. Click here to sign up.

Carpe Diem!

Pat Wetzel

Founder and Member, The Anti-Cancer Club™
Diagnosed with a rare non-Hodgkins lymphoma in 2009, Pat has made anti-cancer health a daily priority. Through the Anti-Cancer Club she provides weekly, actionable ways to take charge of your health. You can contact her directly at The Anti-Cancer Club is also on Twitter and Facebook.

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